Tax amendment isn’t a new tax

With the June primary election looming on the horizon, members of the Franklin County Commission are trying to clear up any last minute concerns about one of the amendments that will appear on the county’s ballots.

The amendment, which was approved by the commission in February, concerns splitting the county’s current one-cent sales tax between the schools and county road projects.

The amendment states that if approved, the county will receive “one-fourth of the proceeds from the existing 1 cent tax for public schools in Franklin County for the purpose of matching funds for the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program in Franklin County, provided the allocation shall be for a term of two years and may be extended for two-year terms only if approved by a majority of voters of Franklin County in subsequent elections.”

Moore said voters will vote “yes” to approve the 25 percent tax split and allocate money for county road projects and will vote “no” to vote the measure down.

The one-cent sales tax currently goes one-hundred percent to the city and county school systems.

“We want to make sure the citizens of Franklin County know that we are in no way proposing a new tax,” Moore said.

“This one-cent tax was already approved by the voters and is already in place. It is not new. This would just allow the schools to continue to be funded and for the commission to receive a portion of those proceeds in order to have matching funds for these necessary road and bridge projects that have already been approved through ATRIP.

“We have approximately $2.3 million in matching funds that we have to come up with in order to complete all of the projects we were approved for, and we simply do not have that kind of money.”

Commissioners first addressed the issue of splitting the one-cent sales tax, with 75 percent of the tax still going to benefit the schools and 25 percent going to the county to fund necessary road and bridge projects, in December.

Since that time, Moore said the commission publicized the issue and asked for public input.

After receiving almost no negative feedback, commissioners voted to move forward with the process in January and allow Sen. Roger Bedford and Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow to introduce the issue during the current legislative session in order for the amendment to be voted on and approved by the legislature.

Moore said the amendment was introduced and approved in both the House and the Senate.

“This will now be in the hands of the voters of Franklin County,” Moore said.

County commissioner Chris Wallace said the county has stretched its finances as far as possible over the past couple of years through bond refinances in order to come up with the matching funds for the first two rounds of ATRIP projects, such as the recent repaving work completed on Franklin 16, but Wallace said there were no more funds to move forward with future projects.

“The problem is that if we don’t find a source of funding for these future ATRIP projects, we will lose out on that money we were awarded,” Wallace said.

“Our roads, especially in the county, are in bad shape in a lot of places, and there is no way we could get all of the work done that we were approved for if it weren’t for this program, so we don’t need to miss out on this opportunity.”

Commissioner Rayburn Massey said splitting the tax and using the county’s portion as matching funds for the county’s approved ATRIP projects was a good investment of tax payers’ money.

“Part of the commission’s job is to serve the tax payers,” Massey said.

“If we can take this 25 percent of the one-cent sales tax, which comes out to about $500,000, and apply it to ATRIP and get these roads fixed, we’ll be turning $500,000 into $3 million worth of road work in the county. You just can’t beat that.”

Franklin County Superintendent Gary Williams and Russellville Superintendent Rex Mayfield have voiced their support of the proposed changes since they first came up in December.

“This one-cent tax is absolutely vital to our school system, and I have spoken with county superintendent Gary Williams and I know that it is vitally important to his school system as well,” Mayfield said.

“It has kept us from having to borrow money and put ourselves in a worse financial situation than we were already in following proration and being cut over $5 million.

“The people of this county have been gracious enough to vote in this tax for the past two cycles in 2010 and 2012, and we hope they will support the schools once again in 2014 when this tax is put back on the ballot for renewal.

“With that being said, I know it is important to work together for the good of the county as a whole, and many of the repairs that would be made through ATRIP would benefit the schools, mainly through our transportation system.

“There are places I know where a county bus goes several miles out of the way to avoid a bridge that it cannot pass over, and that’s wasted money for us when buses are driving several miles each school day that they shouldn’t have to drive. So I will support this change in the distribution of funds.”

Franklin County Schools Superintendent Gary Williams agreed.

“I don’t think I can emphasize enough just how important this one-cent sales tax is to our school system,” Williams said.

“This has been instrumental in helping us pay down our debt, so we have seen just how vital it is.

“But the road and bridge situation, especially in the county, is something that is also a problem for us and something we deal with daily. We receive complaints on a weekly basis about the terrible roads the buses have to drive on and the bridges that have to be bypassed.

“I think it is very important for us to work together on this issue, especially since the county commission was willing to work with the schools four years ago to get this tax put on the ballot in the first place.”

The amendment will appear on the June 3 primary ballots.

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